Joshua Cole, 28
28-year-old Joshua Cole is first African American and youngest candidate to ever run for Virginia’s House of Delegates 28th district.
In a legislature that’s long been an ol’ boys club, he’s bucking the system to represent the diverse voices in Virginia.
What was the best piece of advice you received before you ran for office?
A couple of people told me not to do it at all! But I think the best piece of advice came from my mother. She told me that when you do this, the only thing that you have is your word.
People are going to be relying on you. Everything that you tell them that you're going to be fighting for and what you plan to do. At the end of the day, the only thing that you have is your word.
When did the lightbulb go off? When did you realize you wanted to run for office?
So I ran in 2017. This is my second time running. Initially, I didn't want to run for office. I really wanted to be a volunteer, because I had worked up close and personal with our general assembly. I wanted to get some of these people out of office. I thought I was just going to be like some super volunteer or maybe a paid campaign staff. But for our area, no one ever came out to run. And our district was represented by the Speaker of the House.
But I had a meeting with the lady who ran a couple of years ago and we had a good two-hour meeting. And as you're about to end the meeting, and we're getting up from the table and she says, “Well, maybe you should run.” And I was like, "No, not me."
But that kept playing over and over my head. Then when I thought about my connection to the community, growing up in the area, the people that I knew, I thought, “Well, maybe this might be possible.” The November before the presidential election is when I made the decision.
What are the issues you’re running on? What are the potholes in your district? What are the issues you feel are being neglected and you want to address?
The big thing for us is traffic. Our district is the gateway to the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, which is smack dab on the I-95 corridor. Many of us are commuters, we either work in Richmond, or we work in D.C. We're constantly on the go, which causes us to be stuck in traffic a lot.
Also, in our county, Stafford County, a couple of years ago was ranked one of the top 10 richest counties in the US. But that's because like I said earlier, a lot of people are commuters, so they're bringing a lot of that DC money to Stafford County. But if you live in Stafford County and work in Stafford County, you can't afford to live. So we need high paying jobs, we better jobs, and we also need affordable housing.
That all feeds into education. Our school systems are not fully funded. They need to be fully funded. We need to make sure that we're paying our teachers well so that our students have the consistency, and not switching teachers every semester. There was one point where the city of Fredericksburg couldn't consistently keep a French teacher so they were swapping out every semester or so. Kids need consistency.
“…since 2017, everything shifted. People have been bucking the system.
I think we'll continue to see that trend in Virginia, where people of color, where millennials, where women will come out and run for office to buck the system.”
The last time you ran, you were the youngest first African American to run ever for either party in that district. Why do you think so few people of color run for office, especially when Virginia is so diverse?
Just coming by what I've experienced myself personally, I think a lot of people are sick and tired of the opposition. There are people who are running right now in areas around me, and they're not as well supported as other candidates of other persuasions. So, if you're not living in Richmond, if you're not living in Northern Virginia, or if you don't live in Hampton Roads, it's pretty much in your mind as a black person that you stand no chance.
Especially in Stafford County, we've only had one black person elected to our Board of Supervisors and he's been out of office for almost 10 years. There’s never been another person of color who's been elected to the Board of Supervisors for our county.
We realize there's a lot of opposition because Virginia has something called the “Virginia Way”, which is a good ol’ boys network. If you're not in that ol’ boys network, you're not going to have a leadership position. If you're not chosen from amongst them, or then you can give it up. You're not going to win.
And I think many people have realized that since 2017, everything shifted. People have been bucking the system. I think we'll continue to see that trend in Virginia, where people of color, where millennials, where women will come out and run for office to buck the system.
That leads right into my next question! What perspectives do you think are currently missing in the legislature?
We're actually seeing a big rise in the black elected in Virginia. There are 20 seats out of the 140 legislators represented by black people. I still think we're missing a strong LGBTQ representation. We have delegate Danica Roem, we have Adam Ebbin, but I think there could still be a stronger and greater increase in LGBTQ legislators. Women are killing the game in Virginia, we had the greatest sweep of elected women in 2017. But I think we need to see women of color specifically run, including Latina women Asian Americans women run.
And I could be wrong, but I don't know if we've ever had a Native American elected official in the House of Delegates or the Senate in Virginia. But that would be awesome to see!
Many people don’t vote in local elections because they often don’t know what those positions do or what they’re voting on. Can you define what a Virginia delegate’s role entails? When would I come to my state legislature as opposed to my city council, my congressman, etc?
So the State Legislature in Virginia has a big job. One of the biggest things that I think people don't realize is, we don't vote on judges in Virginia. The judges are appointed by the State Legislature. So if you are frustrated by the judges in your county, or you don't feel that you have a judge that represents who you are, look at your assembly and the delegation from your local area.
We're also the ones that determine how much money gets distributed to each locality as it relates to schools. So if the Board of Supervisors and a school board arguing over money, it's the legislators who allocate the money down to the locality at the state budget every year.
“I heard a lot of people who would say, “You're young. What do you know, about running for office? You've never held elected office before.”
There is always a stigma around running for office.”
We’re also the ones that determine randoms law throughout the state. What the speed limit can be. How many stop signs to put in our locality. The ability to negotiate between a board of supervisors, city council, and with developers. All of that is done on a state level.
Protections for LGBTQ folks, minorities, voting rights, redistricting, that’s all within the State Legislature. So if we're not cognizant of who's being elected to the state positions, we miss out on that how many people are oppressed.
You were 26 the first time you ran. Did you feel like you faced any stigmas or doubters because of your age?
I did, absolutely. It's so funny because a couple weeks ago I was at an event, and I overheard a lady talking to one of my team members. I don't know if she knew I was in earshot but she said, “First, I thought he was too young. But then he opened up his mouth, and I'm really convinced in what he had to say.”
So in 2017, when we were running, I heard a lot of people who would say, “You're young. What do you know, about running for office? You've never held elected office before.”
There is always a stigma around running for office. People have not heard you speak, they don't know your background, or they don't know if you know how the General Assembly works. The first thing they would say, “He is younger, he doesn't know what he's doing.”
What is the best piece of advice you'd give to another young person who's considering a run for office?
Make sure you have the ability to stay in the game. You never want to make up your mind, decide you want to run and then step away. You need to stick to it. Hold your head up high.
You can't listen to everybody. Everybody's going to want to be in your ear and tell what to do. But you have to make sure that you're keeping your head up and staying in the game, and make sure you're only listening to your trusted sources.
The views expressed in this interview are those of the candidate, and do not reflect the beliefs and views of Ballot Breakers or its staff.